Musician Boots Riley, the leader of hip hop collective The Coup, makes his directorial debut with this wildly ambitious workplace satire. A stinging meditation on African-American identity, capitalism and modern-day business ethics, it joins films like Get Out and Dear White People, which are reinventing notions of black cinema. Here, Riley crafts a surreal state-of-the-nation address, with some weird and wild twists that bare comparison to the great Lindsay Anderson’s O Lucky Man!
Recently seen in The Girl in the Spider’s Web, Lakeith Stanfield takes the lead as Cassius Green, who begins the film seeking a job at a telemarketing company by faking his credentials. It matters not; he gets the job anyway. Riley, meanwhile, busies himself setting up a world where sicko reality television dominates the airwaves (a show called I Got The Shit Kicked Out Of Me is beloved by all) and an insidious-looking company Worry Free is everywhere.
As Cassius learns the telephone sales ropes, he gets advised by a colleague (Danny Glover) to adopt a “white voice” when talking to clients down the phone. This he does (with his lines dubbed over by comedian David Cross), advice that soon sees him climbing the corporate ladder and heading up to the executive floor. It’s here where he discovers that his company is in cahoots with Worry Free, which is recruiting employees to live and work in their factories.
If this sounds like a nightmare version of Amazon, it gets even more bizarre in the final act, when Cassius gets in with Worry Free CEO, Steve Lift (Armie Hammer, in an off the chain turn), who hosts decadent, drug-fuelled parties that hide something more sinister below. Co-starring Creed’s Tessa Thompson as Cassius’ girlfriend Detroit, an activist, performance artist and sign twirler, it all makes for an eclectic ensemble who all buy in to Riley’s mad vision.
Admittedly, some of the gags are overplayed, and Riley’s lack of subtlety can grate. But when it hits, it hits hard. The final act, with Cassius’ discoveries, will leave you aghast and amused in equal measure. It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world.
Sorry To Bother You opens on 7 December. For more details, click here.
1. Stills from Sorry To Bother You, courtesy of Sundance Institute